As we piece together the lives of our ancestors, it means documenting their deaths as best as we can verify. A great number of my ancestors lived in the state of Virginia. Death certificates for the state of Virginia are available going back to the year 1912. To locate earlier records, we have to check with the local, i.e., city/town and county registers.
There are a variety of ways to search these records, Ancestry and FamilySearch are my first thoughts. In checking the Southampton County Death Register with FamilySearch, I happened across a record that potentially matched my fourth great-grandmother, Eliza Turner:
Southampton County Drewryville District
Register of Deaths
H.L. Bill, Commissioner of the Revenue, in the year ending December 31, 1883
Blank (Names of parents)
Blank…Consort of, or Unmarried
When I first saw this record, I was not sure that it connected to my ancestor, Eliza. There was no reference to any family members, and this person’s race was listed as white. How could I verify, how could I know that the person listed on this record was my Eliza?
What I did know was that Eliza appeared in the 1880 U.S. Census and by 1886, a widowed Henry Turner had remarried to a certain Caroline Claud. In terms of verifying Eliza’s year of death, it would have had to have been between 1880 and 1886. The Southampton County Death Register date of June 12, 1883 is within that window.
Eliza in the 1880 U.S. Census:
Widowed Henry Turner married Caroline Claud in 1886:
What could help to close the 1880-1886 window of questions concerning Eliza’s death? Turns out that there’s an 1886 Southampton County Chancery Court case involving Eliza’s husband (my fourth great-grandfather, Henry Turner):
Henry Turner had taken out some liens against his property (over 137 acres of Southampton County land) as security against debt that he’d accumulated in his bid to raise successful crops. The lender, Thomas B. Powell, had since died. His estate was handled by Person S. Thomas, who railed in court against Henry, his wife Eliza, Eliza’s mother, Maria Gay (my fifth great-grandmother), and Joseph W. Claud.
According to the summons notice, Henry was served, Maria was not at home, and Eliza had passed away. All things considered, it seems like the Southampton County Death Register record for Eliza Turner, DOD: June 12, 1883, indeed refers to my ancestor.
Riddle solved. The things that we can learn when we search!
It’s humbling to be able to locate such a record from such a time and it serves as proof positive that the brickwall of 1912, in terms of Virginia death records, can be broken.
Be creative in your family history search and you will reap the rewards of finding important family history information.
Just remember to cross-check and to verify verify verify.
This is our situation…
The Genealogy Situation Room